Payson Packers Celebrate A Quarter Century Of Exploring Trails

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Twenty-five years ago this coming March, a young woman named Rae Strunk gathered a few other young ladies together to hike through the woods and valleys around Payson. From that beginning was born a group of men and women who today are called the Payson Packers.

Those of us who have hiked many a moon as a group, now numbering more than 125, would like to invite anyone who has ever hiked with the Packers in the past, even once, to join us in March for a dinner and celebration.

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Hikers of the Barnhardt Trail are treated to breathtaking views. The trail affords both desert and creek vistas from its various vantage points.

Do you remember carrying backpacks and old army canteens? Now we have backpacks with "bladder bags" of water with a sucking tube that winds around our neck to draw water. Then, came the ladies (and men) with their "fanny packs." Do you remember sharing our cars to capacity with other hikers, donating a 25-cent piece for cheap gas and that all-important compass with its wiggling needle? Now we have a GPS and a degree in "satellite tracking."

Let's not forget those "new" Forest Service maps dated 1972. We have never been lost. We just made wrong turns.

How about those annual Margarita hikes? There was the Cold Spring waterfall hike when we laid out a fancy tablecloth and assembled two-piece champagne "glasses" and tilted those bottles of champagne.

Then there was John who hiked in cowboy boots because he feared rattlers; and the nice young lady that wore slip-ons because she thought climbing on the big boulders in West Clear Creek was like dancing.

Harry apparently liked Mary. While sitting on a rock, lunching, at a Native American ruin along Tonto Creek, Mary looked on the ground beneath her thighs and saw a gold nugget. We never saw Mary again. Harry said he had carefully painted a rock gold and put it where Mary found it.

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Trails found near water offer a look at Arizona's unique riparian areas.

We had widows and widowers who met and later joined in marriage. There has never a divorce though -- at least among active members.

There have been a couple of broken wrists and ankles and a badly cut head that struck a broken tree limb while rock skipping in Tom's Creek. We almost lost a hiker, an 81-year-old, who stumbled on a hidden rock and was pitched off a trail and came close to rolling a couple hundred feet down into a rushing stream. A fellow hiker grabbed his ankle as he began to roll and held until another hiker came to help pull him up. He was not the oldest hiker, as I remember taking a woman in her late 90s around Woods Canyon Lake.

We have learned new words, like petroglyph and pictograph and bedrock metates and metamorphic and words not found in the dictionary, like Advil, Tylenol and "iber pro" something.

Then, there was walking in the footsteps of Geronimo in the Chiricahuas and threading through the red rock of Bryce and the cross-bedded sandstone of Zion. There was Spring Canyon at Capitol Reef, Utah; Ribbon Falls in the Grand Canyon and scrambling down a steel chain beneath Moony Falls at Havasupai. Remember the seven-foot pictographs in Canyonlands and playing like children running around the Entrada "Goblins" at a southern Utah state park? There is the climb up North and Mazatzal peaks, Black Mountain, Mt. Peele and Tabletop platform. Black Mountain was interesting. Four of us thought we were the first to reach the summit. Then, we found a business card on top, stuffed in a cactus, from a Catholic nun from St. Philips who, a couple of days before, I had asked to join us. She did it the day before. From that day on, she was called a flying nun. Then, there was sleeping on the sand along Cherry Creek with lightning bugs along the stream and the early morning hike into Pueblo Canyon to see ancient two-story Native American dwellings, and then cooling off under the natural running shower that they used.

The trails never end.

Come to our gathering and reminisce. Call (928) 474-3040 for details.

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